I need a blessing
“Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.”
I have missed it lately and more often. It has been missing from contemporary worship services for quite some time. I remember hearing, in the early 90s, “Goodbye, have a good day.” Now it is often missing altogether from traditional services. I recently heard a pastor tell the congregation that he was closing with a wish. I need a blessing.
Blessing is not a common idea in our culture. It is far more than a wish or a hope. A blessing is an empowering gift from God. It is a speech act by someone commissioned by God and his people through which God acts and a gift is given. God gives many blessings daily, but there is a special one we need.
The Old Testament blessing
The first place blessing is given in the Old Testament is in Genesis 1:22. The Hebrew word for blessing is “Barak” (sound familiar?). God blesses the animals to “be fruitful and increase.” In 1:28 humans are given this blessing and then some. We are blessed to increase life and to develop the creation. Our uniqueness is as God’s agents, his likeness. We are empowered to rule over creation as God rules, as one who gives life, order and blessing.
This blessing, not a command or mandate, is the ability and privilege to be God’s agent in this creation for this creation. This blessing is repeated to Noah regarding the creation (Gen. 9:1–7) and to Abram (Gen. 12:1–3) regarding all peoples. This is the blessing we need repeated weekly to remind and empower us in our role in God’s creation.
The original blessing points us towards our role in creation, but the priestly blessing of Numbers 6 continually reminds us that we need God’s blessing to be a blessing. We need to be empowered by God, kept by God, at peace with God. “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace” (6:24–26 NIV).
This blessing shows that there are those empowered by God to give his blessing to all his people. It is not just those who take special religious vows who are blessed. Every one of God’s people is blessed. The blessing comes right before the setting up of the Tabernacle. This highlights the heart of the blessing as God’s presence with his people. This is the blessing we need – the guarding, gracious God with us in our work and in our broken world.
The New Testament Beatitudes
The first blessing in the New Testament is in Matthew 5, which we call the Beatitudes. Here nine times we are blessed. As we long for, work for and encounter opposition to the kingdom of heaven, we are blessed. We are blessed with a future hope.
These are not the “Be Happy Attitudes,” as Robert Schuller once called them, and as they are sometimes translated. They are not first telling us how to act or think. They are blessings. When we are broken by the seeming absence of God’s kingdom in our world, we are given hope. When we are reflecting the meek, righteous, merciful, pure, peaceful ways of God, we are empowered by God. This is not how we make ourselves happy. It is God’s gift now pointing us to his future. This blessing is God’s action that leads to our happiness.
At the end of worship, as I leave this special encounter with God, I need a closing blessing. I need to be reminded one more time, to be empowered to go out into that world as an agent of God to be a blessing.
Early in my ministry I often closed with a blessing that I had learned from the Presbyterians. “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” One Sunday a parent came up to me at the end of a service and told me that their child had said that I had not ended the service because I had not said these words. That blessing was important, to that child and to me. Now I always close with this blessing.
A blessing is the full “Goodbye.” It is not just a simple parting or wish. It is “God be with you.” Go in peace to love and serve the Lord. And let everyone say, “Amen.”